Practical Tip #46- How I Learned American Sign Language to Communicate With My Non-Verbal Son

American Sign Language was the “hook” in getting Tristan to say more words.  I knew from the beginning of parenting my son, Tristan, that communication was going to be crucial in managing his behaviors.  I was not always sure how this was going to happen.  It was evident that his behavior of eloping out the doors would be better managed if he could tell me his wants or needs. Speech therapy was only going so far.  I had one person suggest sign language.  In a very brief conversation, this person suggested I check out the library for Signing Time videos.

signingtime

I figured I had nothing to lose.   At first, I watched the videos with Tristan.  He seemed somewhat interested but it turned out I was doing more of the learning and watching than him!  Then I taught him.  He was a sign language sponge.  He soaked up all the words I introduced to him.   He was about 3 when our journey with Rachel, Leah, Alex, and Hopkins began.   These are the cast that make up these videos.  I was so inspired by this family!   In their challenging parenting journey they took their precious time to invest into other families.  Rachel’s first daughter,Leah, was born deaf.   Their second daughter, Lucy, was born with other disabilities.  I realized they might not have time to create such a beautiful product–but they did.  Tristan got the benefit of being able to communicate.

I watched every video I could check out from the library.  Thankfully, there was a large selection.  Then I had a behavior specialist share if I could increase Tristan’s vocabulary to 300 words he would likely talk.  Then I bought sign language books.  I tried my best to teach him a larger vocabulary.   Somewhere after 300 words I lost count.  He began combining words.  He did say a few sentences.  That is as far as we got.   I count this as a success.  Behaviors did decrease.   We made progress.

Sometimes he would sign a word and I could not remember what it was.  I would have to think of the context clues.  Luckily most of the time I would recall what the word was.  ‘

There are also American Sign Language on-line dictionaries to look up words.  This was helpful too.  I really just learned one word at a time and continued practicing it like learning any new language.

I would suggest the following signs to begin with:  eat, hungry, thirsty, mom, dad, help, tired, cookie, drink.

I would highly recommend checking out Signingtime.com for a way to view the products digitally.  In addition, check out YouTube!

I know interpreters spend many years learning this skill.  I do not want to underestimate their gifting.  I am in no way an expert in sign language.  However for the purpose of having communication of wants and needs I was able to learn and teach Tristan.  I can not communicate conversationally with ASL.  I know enough that I can communicate with my son which is greatly beneficial.